Updated: Jul 11
Let's not sugarcoat it. Change is difficult. We adapt much easier to situations that are familiar because our brains, based on prior experience, have already created pathways on how to respond. Whenever something new comes along, the uncertainty that arises with our perceived lack of preparation increases our defences (and our anxiety). No wonder we are more inclined to avoid/delay change.
However, we can all agree that change is sometimes necessary, despite how difficult and inconvenient it is. If we continue to engage in behaviour, or maintain relationships that are harmful, we increase the risk of compromising our mental and emotional health. So how do you know when you're ready to make a change? The Transtheoretical Model (also known as the "Stages of Change" model), introduced by researchers James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente in the 1970s, conceptualizes that the process of change takes place in six (6) stages).
Stages of Change
In this stage, there is not intent to change. As a matter of fact, it is possible that you are not even aware that your behaviours and/or relationships are problematic. It could be that you you feel you are adapting well to your circumstances. However, some behaviours can be maladaptive. This means that you are adapting, but in a harmful way. The precontemplation stage is generally characterized by denial of the problem.
Therapeutic Implications: It is likely you are seeking therapy at this stage because it is mandatory (eg. court ordered), or loved ones have pointed out to you that your well-being is at risk, but you don't see it.
During this stage, you are weighing the pros and cons of making a change, possibly in the next six (6) months. This stage is marked by intense ambivalence, and can be frustrating for yourself or those around you who are impacted by, and care about your well-being. This is an especially challenging stage because even though you are aware of the benefits of changing your current circumstances, you are likely influenced by the appeal of your current familiar context.
Therapeutic Implications: Therapy would be most effective in helping you process your own ambivalence, weigh your options, and support your well-being as you consider your next steps.
You are actively taking steps for immediate action in the next month or so. This means you have developed a plan, accessed resources (services, programs, support people), and set a timeline to engage in activity that leads to change.
Therapeutic Implications: In this stage, therapy is usually helpful in assessing your needs and supporting you with accessing resources that may be outside the scope of practice for your therapist.
In this stage you have been participating in activities that demonstrate a shift in lifestyle and behaviours. It could be breaking unhealthy habits, leaving a toxic relationship, etc.
Therapeutic Implications: Therapy offers a space for accountability and self-reflection.
The work you're doing in this stage is essentially to prevent you from going back to maladaptive lifestyles or behaviours. Examples of this include going to regular therapy sessions, frequent check-ins with an accountability coach, or avoiding social contexts that may trigger past behaviours.
Therapeutic Implications: In this stage, it is possible that you have been meeting with a therapist over an extended period, doing the tasks involved in the Action stage.
You have strong self-efficacy and have no intention to return to past problematic behaviours. Your efforts in the Action and Maintenance stages have helped you develop resilience against past triggers.
Therapeutic Implications: Your therapist may be discussing with you termination of therapy itself, as well as providing you with additional resources to support your well-being beyond the therapeutic space.
A Note On Relapse
Sometimes relapse to an earlier stage happens as a result of a particularly overwhelming trigger, or limited self-efficacy due to inconsistent maintenance tasks. This does not mean you have failed. It simply means that you will have to continue the process of learning the skills and strategies necessary to move through the stages again. For many people, even at Termination, they continue to engage in maintenance tasks to mitigate the risk of relapse.
When it comes to therapy, it's helpful to understand which stage you are to ascertain your own readiness. As you can see, therapy can start at any change. However, the process and tasks of therapy will look very different at each stage. If you would like to explore how therapy can help you on your journey of change, feel free to contact me for a free initial consult.
Prochask, J.O., Velicer, W.F. (1997). The transtheoretical model of health behaviour change. American Journal of Health Promotion, 12(1), 38-48